Oh, I'm actually really
glad to see this thread for a number of reasons... Firstly that you actually want
to question your own thought process, and are willing to learn what you can - which is so appallingly uncommon. Second, that this presents a platform from which to educate others.
(I actually only joined now to participate in the acronym & anti-straight prejudice threads, but this was timed too perfectly not to be my first stop)
To be clear on where I'm coming from on this topic: I grew up with a life-long chronically ill parent, childhood disabled/differently-abled friends, spent my entire life with a mental illness and have been living with a physical disability for a full third of my life.
Firstly, your definition of ableism is a fair bit off.
Much like feminism is not the concept that women are superior
to men (despite what militant man-hating "feminists" & the mass media may try to convince you into believing), ableism isn't about being disabled/differently-abled as a better
state than being able-bodied & mentally-capable. It's about deserving equal treatment.
Just as racism is defined as "practices that discriminate against members of particular racial groups, for example by perpetuating unequal access to resources between groups." (Wiki Article
) and sexism as "not just a matter of individual attitudes but is built into many societal institutions" (Again from the Wiki Article
) ableism is about the societal or institutional discrimination against other-than able-bodied & mentally-capable persons.
Would I rather have a fully capable mind & body? Sure I would. Is that ever going to happen? Not bloody likely. Does that at all diminish my value as a person? No.
Or my capability to live a fulfilling life? Again, no. What about my ability to contribute to society? Also no.
What it does
do, is change the manner
in which I am capable of living my life and contributing to society. By no means does it necessarily diminish
me in any way. Not unless I allow it to.
But that fact doesn't prevent society from seeing & acting otherwise.
Coming back to those definitions I gave earlier.
Would you consider it discrimination if blacks were not allowed access to public services or entrance into politically important buildings or access to emergency precautions or denied equal education? Or women or non-heterosexuals for that matter?
How is that different from not providing access into those same buildings for wheelchair users? Or fire exit strategies for the blind? What about the mentally handicapped or ill who are segregated from their mentally-capable classmates and/or not given adequate instruction to allow them to work at the same level as their age-mates? What about those with invisible illnesses or other disabilities that do not fall under that very narrow traditional definition of "handicapped*" who are denied the same benefits to healthcare & welfare which may very well be necessary for their maintaining a healthy and functional life (and in some of our cases, our very continued existence)?*(Paraplegic, quadriplegic, blind, deaf, and elderly)
It's a case of complicit negligence as opposed to outright oppression. But the result is exactly the same as if these were laws. No, not every disability is disadvantaged in the exact same manner, what is a great obstacle for one person may be a non-issue for another, and yet another person may have no problem with either or suffer minor hassle with both. But in apartheid blacks received one treatment, while coloureds a different, and indians or asians yet another... They were all differently effected, yet all were oppressed by it.Some further examples of institutional ableism discrimination
I think most disabled people (at least in my experience) would not term themselves as "differently-abled"... however, I can see it being quite a different matter for say, someone who's deaf, especially those born so, particularly given the deaf community & culture, seeing as they feel they are not disadvantaged by their lack of hearing. Same for someone with asperger's or an "abnormal" processing "disorder", seeing as their major problem is adapting to a world in which an alternative-perception is prevalent & predominant. Much like being left-handed in our right-dominant world.
(have you ever tried using a pair of scissors for someone of the opposite dexterity? It's incredibly
frustrating and quite tiresome... but entirely do-able)
There is an error in stating that it's not
a consequence of human diversity. Look at something like Sickle Cell Anaemia - it's a disease needing management to most, but having one copy of that gene in areas where malaria is highly common is an advantage & makes you more resistant to the infection, thus increasing life expectancy there. (This is why it's more common amongst black populations descended from tropical tribes) Where-as outside of that circumstance it now actually shortens life-expectancy.
We find symmetrical features attractive because they indicate a certain amount of health in a potential mate... different degrees of symmetry then indicate differing states of health. Diversity. Different conditions are the result of human diversity. It comes back to the point about evolution not always being an improvement. Keep in mind that disabled people may have healthy children, infact, people with different genetic dispositions might actually benefit from each other's "bad genes" by cancelling the others negative effects out. Diversity is how nature experiments with finding suitable adaptations.
Seeing it as default?
What? Like how Straight, white males are the predominant figure in practically all media & positions of power? Because that encourages a healthy image of normality for everyone else... women, blacks, hispanics, asians, gays, bisexuals, asexuals, lesbians, trans, disabled... If you aren't a straight, white male then you aren't of importance. Oh, you'd like a role-model? Good luck finding one who you can actually identify with on more than one front. Oh, you think a woman can be president? Hah. Black billionaire CEO? Uhuh. Trans actress? You've GOT to be kidding. Mentally ill person who's NOT a serial killer? Yeah, right.
Because that's the picture society presents us with. If you're a woman your only importance is in relation to a man. Black? Oh, you're the sidekick who dies first. Alternate sexuality orientation or gender? Unheard of or a pervert. Disabled? Clearly evil/deserved it or just a figure to pity.
Where is the very normal guy who happens to be hispanic, gay & mayor? The woman who hasn't had to sacrifice her femininity in order to get ahead to become a successful professional? The trans girl with lupus?
Native americans and other indigenous peoples are minorities... does that mean that they aren't the "default" and therefore don't deserve to be represented or respected? The "ideal" is white, so anyone who's not is not good enough, they should try be more white despite it's biological impossibility? Straight is "default"... therefore everyone
should aspire to this contrary to their actual sexuality?
For that matter we should only ever present images of the "ideal" human... because anything else is worthless. Despite the fact that noone
actually ever meets all the criteria. We can't possibly display real people
& their stories. They might start to think they count
Is someone less of a human because they don't share the same ethnicity & culture as is "default" to the majority?
As for when is it able-ist to use certain words? I'd say the line is when it's derogatory versus metaphor. Metaphor is respectful, you're being descriptive without judgement. When you're deliberately stating it as an insult or assigning a value... Like calling someone "retarded"... that's able-ist because you're using mental retardation as something of lower worth... defining it as being of lesser value. It all comes down to what value you're attaching to the word. No value, no discrimination. The moment the word is loaded with value, it similarly is carrying discrimination.
Now, onto the societal factors.
This is a difficult one to convey. Much of it is so ingrained in society (like patriarchy) that it may often bypass our notice completely.
But how is a phrase like "that's so retarded" any different from "that's so gay" really? What's the real difference between "fag" and "cripple"? Both may deeply effect & inflict pain upon one person, and yet may be claimed as part of an identity for another. (I myself fall under the latter case) And yet these are phrases that are uttered everyday without thought by many, many people. And it's not as uncommon as you'd think for this to be done within earshot (or even to and sometimes by
) someone who's life is effected by disability (whether personally, or through someone they care about)... There are an awful lot more people living with a disability of one sort or another, whether severe or relatively minor... And this is just a visible symptom of the greater attitude of society as a whole. Yes, being disabled is defined by being impaired in a manner that effects you on a daily basis, and that usually means that you lack a capability of some sort... But all too often that is seen as being broken
... and it's not just your inability that's viewed that way... all too often these are applied to the person
as well. Even when these disabilities may be completely negligated by the use of aides.
From what you've said I think this is related to the part that's confusing you...
If we take someone with a disability, for example, a leg amputee... these people are completely capable of functioning on the same level (and even in the same manner
) as your regular able-bodied folk, IF
they are provided the tools (the prosthetic) and training (physical therapy) with which to do so. And yet despite this fact they will be treated as inferior to able-bodied persons. Even given no other differences. They are seen as less attractive, less capable, less functional... in the eyes of society their entire value as a person is diminished. They are to be fixed
... Not every person with a disability is housebound, unable to interact with society, and incapable of pursuing a vocation. Many people who you would qualify as able-bodied & mentally-capable that you interact with on a daily basis may very well be living with a disability. Yet we are still often times treated as lesser citizens. As lesser people.
In the UK approximately 1 in 3 people is either disabled or is close to someone disabled.
Between 10% - 15% of the world's population is disabled in one way or another. (And this is likely still under-reported) Making the disabled community the largest minority in the world. We are not so unusual as to be utterly abnormal
I take medication everyday in order to maintain my health as best I can.
It's no different to me than brushing your teeth is for you.
Yet, this simple fact (let alone any of the other ways my disability alters my life): that I need medication in order to function on equal footing to normal people
, and in the same manner as them, automatically qualifies me as wrong
in our society. The moment people find out about my illness I am treated differently. Sometimes this has been good... like asking how they can better facilitate my different
needs. Usually though... this is not the case.
Most of the time it's subtle... so subtle you might not even realise it's happening... and often it's unintentional. But just because people don't mean
to discriminate or treat you badly doesn't make it okay.
And then sometimes it's incredible outright.
I think the worst case and the one that abled people really just do not even think of, consider or sometime even believe, is the incredible amount of prejudice & discrimination amongst the medical profession
... the very people that most of us rely on in order to live our best possible lives... that is if you even have access to the medical care you need in the first place - disabled people are 3 times more likely to be denied healthcare than non-disabled in developed countries. Even worse in developing countries like mine.
I'm lucky in that my father does every thing he can to give me access to private healthcare, but there are many, many people less fortunate. In my country alone nearly a quarter of the people that require
dialysis actually have access to it. The demand just so far exceeds the supply... and then even amongst those who do have access, there are those really tragic cases like those who fall just
within that income bracket that means you're too well off to qualify for free healthcare, and so you end up paying your entire income into just getting your required treatment - there are people who literally have to pay their medical costs before they buy food, which they are then not able to afford. There are people living purely off the generosity of those close to them because they can't afford anything beyond their medical needs... and sometimes not even that. Or things like this one woman I knew who was kicked out of the hospital because she turned 55. This is a woman with a chronic & potentially life threatening (without treatment) condition, simply because she was chronic & of a certain age, thus she was considered a lost cause & basically left to die. (She didn't, but only because her family bent over backwards to pay for her to get her treatment privately - she was also a case where she was literally living off food donations) Agreeably our healthcare system is notoriously under-funded & understaffed, resultantly being incredibly hard, but we are hardly the only place where such injustices happen.
I mean, even when you're lucky enough to get into private there's still an incredible amount of mistreatment.
Most of my experience is from the perspective of chronic illness, which you'd be surprised at how often is forgotten that as a possible disability. (Just like not all disabilities are chronic illness, not all chronic illness is a disability - some people may live perfectly functional lives, others of us... not so much. This doesn't just depend on your disease, but actually differs between each individual patient, no matter how identical their diagnosis)
But there are some terrible things, like the ward nurses, who believe that just because they have a uniform (and training), that makes them an expert on your personal health... no matter how new they are to the profession, how experienced you are from years of dealing with your specific case
or obscure your condition. Which means they don't listen to you. Sometimes you will even be treated as being "difficult" or "problematic" or worse yet "non-compliant" and "resistant" when all you're trying to do is to best to protect your health & wellbeing.
I've had a matron
who completely ruined my one surgery to create an access port because she decided to treat me like a child. I came out of theatre & was just waking up, still groggy, when she decided to "check up on me" and that she was going to grab onto and squeeze
the clearly marked "do not touch"
arm that had just been operated on, and continue
to do so despite me actually ending up screaming in pain
and my father yelling at her to stop. With the added commentary from her that "No, it's fine, I know what I'm doing"...
I lost the port as a result. This has means I now have to have an artificial one because of problems with the others they tried to create ending up non-functional, and me being 2 possible options short. (After that one failed they would normally try the same position on the other side, but because this one didn't work they decided to rather try a better bet, seeing as we didn't realise the effects of this incident until afterwards... Basically instead of 4 standard options, she effectively halved mine: once they pass-over the first 2, you can never go back & try them)
And it doesn't matter how you interact with them either, the most respectful & polite manner is ignored & dismissed just as easily as screaming and fighting. (the latter as being "unreasonable" and the former as "unimportant") That's really what it comes down to though. Dismissal. Being treated as if you have no say... no right to autonomy, or choice. Your choice about what happens inside your body has already been stolen from you by circumstance... having your conscious choice be stripped from you too is just to much. It's denying your right to be treated as a person
I'm in my 20s, I have been sick and responsible for caring for my disease since early teenagehood. And yet at 21 & legally and adult, I've been given the same respect for my independence as a petulant 4 year old. Taking away my very recognition as human.I'm apparently not even allowed my right to liberty and security of person and have been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
(This is one
of my collection of horror stories... worse still, there were people present who knew me - friend and regular medical staff alike - and were also well aware of my illness & physical state, yet did not even attempt to intervene
... Because this is apparently an acceptable treatment for someone in my condition)
Hospitals (and their staff) have denied me my necessary medication, taken it away from me all together, and seized control of it, despite the strict medical instructions I'm supposed to follow in regards to it. Because despite years of self-regulated treatment, I'm apparently not responsible enough to medicate myself.
I've had to fight staff who've insisted that they must do certain things a certain way (without any better reason than "we're supposed to" or "it's procedure" a lot of the time) which would actually be contradictory to my health and even go against previously given doctor's orders...
I've had a doctor change my medicine against my will, without consulting me, simply because a test result didn't exactly
meet his standards. It damn nearly killed me I had such a bad reaction to the drug. He also did this immediately before leaving for 2 weeks.
My best friend has two severe chronic pain conditions
, yet has to fight her specialist for the illness
in order to get the painkillers she needs
just to be able to get out of bed in the morning. Actually, this is a recurring issue with chronic pain patients... We're constantly being treated like drug-seeking addicts (nevermind that addiction is it's own brand of illness for the moment) when all we're doing is attempting to receive adequate treatment.
Even after years
of living with the condition and seeing the same doctor. Most chronic pain patients I've talked to, their biggest fear? That they really are just drug-seeking addicts, that's how pervasive the attitude is... that it's convincing desperately sick people not to seek treatment from fear of accusation and rejection
... Because if your doctor thinks you're a druggie, not only will you be treated like crap, and denied medication for it, but it starts the pattern of them taking you less and less seriously. Until eventually no matter how much you're suffering they won't believe that there's a genuine physical problem there. (Happens more often than you'd think)
Which is particularly
bad in circumstances where there's a limited number of specialists for your condition available to you, so losing a doctor is a BIG deal, or where medical professionals discuss you, and the one who doesn't believe you convinces others that you're not really sick too. Meaning your treatment degrades in other areas too. As you're taken less seriously by more people.
Oh, and then there's the situation where you actually have
a mental or emotional diagnosis... the moment people realise you have one, you are treated as if everything
were a result of it. If I'm upset, I will be told I'm being "irrational and crazy"... no matter how valid my point, or how credible the cause... Me disagreeing with the hospital staff must mean I'm "unstable"... even if they are actively causing harm to me. I've been told that my (physical) illness was purely in my head.
I had some horrid symptoms after my last surgery, and was convinced something was wrong with it... the surgeon pretty much accused me of just wanting to get rid of the catheter... Like I was a kid who didn't like the situation & was playing ill to get out of it, when I fully realise that no matter how unpleasant this may be I need it in order to stay alive
. Nevermind the fact that while I didn't like it, I had no problem with the thing, and had had one before for quite a long time without any issue.
Now, at this stage, I was literally unable to stand up
by myself without falling over at great risk of injury. I couldn't make it the 5 meters to the door out my room - let alone halfway down the passage to the bathroom - without assistance. There is literally nothing I hate more than losing my self-reliance - you couldn't give me all the money in the world to fake that. Was constantly sick too. Turned out that the damn tubing was too long for me, and was actually waving around my heart interfering with my autonomous nervous system. That could literally have been something that stopped me being able to breathe
... or have a steady heart rhythm... or any number of other things that could have been potentially lethal. Thank goodness I have a great relationship with my specialist who listened to me when I told him "this is really really
serious, get this guy to fix it"
Even those working in mental health specifically will treat you like crap. You're no longer a person
to them. No matter the fact that my condition is managed & treated to the point where I usually function as perfectly mentally healthy
. I mean, I have bad days... We all do, but they're not that different from a normal person's.
I still refuse to deal with almost all of the mental health profession after my last experience with them... (I had a nervous breakdown & was hospitalised/institutionalised)
I was in a very abusive home situation at the time, and because of my pre-existing mental health history they not only didn't believe me
, but took the abuser's side
. They also insisted my physical illness was a part/result of my mental one
. Uhm, no. Followed by insisting I was to remain in their unit despite the arrangement being that I was going to a safe place
, and they would be closing
for the holidays a few days later
anyhow... and when I didn't do so, they told my family that I couldn't be allowed to leave as I was suicidal
When that didn't work, (my dad called them out on their bullshit) they "kicked me out"
, and forbade contact
between me & the other patients since I was now classified as a "bad influence"
They were a rehab & psych ward for Adolescents & young adults... yet all of us who came in with behavioural, metal or emotional problems were forced to participate in narcotics anon sessions & activities, they furthermore attempted to get us all to "admit to our addictions"... and when we didn't (because we didn't have any), we were "in denial"
... and when their recovery program
us, we were kicked out from the facility.
The only way they considered you as "fixed" was if you lied & told them you accepted your addiction & all that crap.
So yeah, treatment in all medical areas can be really really crap.
Then there's the problem of general society... although that tends to be less damaging to your actual health, and focus on destroying your ability to function in normal society... When you've been disabled long enough, it can get extremely difficult
to relate to abled people. They just exist in a completely separate reality and usually don't even think
to compromise or understand... That burden is always on the disabled: Conform, fit in, adjust.
Another good example of healthy people failing to interact well with the disabled - constantly stating that you must fight
your disability, or cure
it. Which just shows the lack of understanding between the two groups.
I mean, do abled-people fight their inability to fly under their own power? No. Why? Because it's just simply something that's not possible for them to physically do... Fighting it would be pointless, curing it an incredibly remote possibility at best. Neither are practical or serve any real purpose. You'd think that anyone who obsessed over fighting their inability to fly as disturbed.
Instead people build machines, tools, that allow them to travel faster, to take to the air. Or they get on quite fine without ever flying at all. This is healthy.
Same with telling someone to fight their disability. Fighting it is pointless, impractical, and a waste of time & effort.
Accepting your reality and your limitations and developing ways to deal with or mitigate them is the best you can do.TL:DR
Does it suck to be disabled? Yes.
Because of the handicap? Yes.
Does this mean being disabled is automatically OMG AWFUL? Nope. I can have a perfectly satisfactory & even fullfilling life. It's just a part of my life. Some people are short-sighted. They put on their glasses & deal with it without thinking anything of it. They aren't seen as being of any less value as anyone, or as incapable of being responsible for themselves. Being near-sighted doesn't change the way society interacts with you. It doesn't diminish you.
What does able-ism really mean? That I'm not treated like an actual person, with respect & rights.
What am I, as someone disabled, looking for?
I'd like to be treated as equal to my able-bodied peers. I'd like to be recognised & acknowledged as a person. To be heard & respected. To be treated with dignity. I'd like to have the freedom to make my own decisions & pursue my own aspirations with as much opportunity as anyone else.I want my full human rights.***I've spent 3 days writing this - excuse the length & any rant-ish-ness